September 29, 2017

Dear friends,

The first serious cookbook I bought was “The New York Times Cook Book” by Craig Claiborne. I still use it whenever I want to make paella, chicken satay, country pate or mushroom bisque.

None of those life-altering recipes made it into the latest Times cookbook, described by the publisher as “All the best recipes from 150 years of distinguished food journalism.” I’m a fan of the book anyway, as are many others — it won a James Beard Award after it was published in 2014.

Yes, I’m dishing up old news. I admit that here in my cozy retirement backwater of Copley, Ohio, I did not hear of the book until two weeks ago, when a discount-book service, BookBub, offered the e-book version for a couple of bucks.

The full name of the book is “The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century.” Editor Amanda Hesser, a former Times food writer, tested each of the 1,104 recipes in the book, along with many more that didn’t make the cut.
Unlike Claiborne’s Times cookbook, which covered just a decade, this one draws on recipes from 150 years.

This is not a food history book, although Hesser prefaces each chapter with a delightful timeline of a food’s progression through the newspaper’s pages. Hesser chose recipes that remain vibrant and enticing no matter the age. The recipe I tried, for Spicy New England Pot Roast, is from 1972, and it wears its age well. I can’t wait to try a legion of other recipes, from Hot Cheese Olives (baked olives in cheese pastry) to Pumpkin Black Bean Soup.

Although I already have a pot roast recipe I love, I will make this new recipe again because it is almost as delicious as mine. The spicy pot roast recipe has a strange list ingredients — cranberry sauce, horseradish, cloves, a cinnamon stick — that come together to produce a slightly sweet, richly-flavored gravy. Hesser writes, “I wouldn’t call this spicy — the horseradish mellows — but it’s certainly flush with candid warming flavors like bacon, cinnamon and cranberries.”

Well, I would call it spicy — not in the spicy-hot sense, but in the full-of-spices sense. It is fall-worthy and absolutely delicious.


  • 3 tbsp. flour
  • 2 tsp, salt
  • 1/4 tsp fresh-ground black pepper
  • 1 (4 lb.) boned and tied beef arm, blade or bottom round roast
  • 3 tbsp. bacon drippings or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated horseradish or drained prepared horseradish (4-oz. jar)
  • 1 cup whole-berry cranberry sauce
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken in two
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 16 small white onions
  • 1 bunch carrots, peeled and cut into 3-inch lengths
Mix the flour with the salt and pepper. Dredge the meat in the flour, rubbing it into all surfaces.

Heat the drippings in a Dutch oven or other heavy casserole and brown the meat very well on all sides over high heat. Pour off the drippings into a skillet and reserve.

Mix together the horseradish, cranberry sauce, cinnamon, cloves and broth and add to the meat. Bring the mixture to a boil, cover tightly and simmer gently for about 2 hours, or until the meat is barely tender.

Meanwhile brown the onions in the reserved drippings in the skillet. Add the carrots and cook 2 minutes longer. Remove from heat. When the meat is barely tender, use a slotted spoon to add the onions and carrots. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes longer, or until the vegetables and meat are tender. Serves 8.


What I cooked last week:
Three batches of pesto; ricotta cheese, sliced tomato and a fried egg on wheat-nut toast; cherry tomato and goat cheese clafoutis; grilled sockeye salmon, oven-roasted peppers, eggplant, cherry tomatoes and zucchini tossed with baby kale, vinaigrette and sea salt.

What I ate out last week:
Cream of wheat and a hardboiled egg, two bites of meat loaf, desiccated fruit cup and tomato soup, and an egg salad sandwich and vegetable soup, all as a patient at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron; tuna salad plate with cottage cheese and hard-cooked egg at Village Gardens restaurant in Cuyahoga falls; an Italian sausage sandwich with onions, peppers and marinara sauce at the Mum Festival in Barberton.

Note: Tony cooked a lot last week while I recuperated from shoulder replacement surgery on the 18th.  He made a shrimp stir fry, grilled salmon, spicy shrimp rice bowl and an amazing miso chicken and vegetable soup. You’ll note that I cooked a good bit, too, which should tell you that the recovery is going great. This week I was gifted with three days of mail-order meal kits, which I am going to spring on Tony. We’ll see if he can restrain himself from adding soy sauce to everything. I’ll report back next week.


From Dona:
This question is not a joke. How can you tell when buttermilk has gone bad, in other words, gone sour? I never seem to use the entire carton in a reasonable time.

Dear Dona: Good question. For the answer, I turned to the folks at Cook’s Illustrated, who once went to great lengths to figure that out for a magazine article. The short answer: Buttermilk is good for about three weeks after opening the carton. You’ll know you’ve passed the limit when the milk begins producing blue-green mold.

Buttermilk lasts longer than regular milk because it contains lactic acid, which acts as a preservative, according to Cook’s. The flavor becomes less buttery as it ages, although the tang remains and even intensifies. Luckily, buttermilk freezes well, so there’s no need to toss out your leftovers.

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September 20, 2017

Dear friends,

Imagine toasted butternut squash ravioli with a warm ricotta-Parmesan-sage dip. Keep on imagining, because I didn’t get around to creating that recipe last week. Maybe someday. I’ve been so busy (or lazy maybe) I instead splashed the ravioli with brown butter and topped them with frizzled prosciutto and fried sage.

You may already know how to make this classic dish, but I’m going to tell you anyway. For a dish so simple— it has just four ingredients — it sure tastes spectacular. Of course, you could turn it into a day-long project by roasting and pureeing the squash, making the pasta, and stuffing it with the butternut puree. But let’s not. I bought excellent butternut ravioli at Sam’s Club and spotted some the next day at Whole Foods. I’m sure Earth Fare carries them, too, and regular supermarkets may as well.

With that out of the way, all you have to do is brown some butter and fry some prosciutto and sage leaves. Seriously, this dinner almost qualifies as fast food.

A word about browning butter: You should barely sizzle it until the solids drop to the bottom of the pan and turn brown. The butter itself will look brown, but the toasted solids are what actually give it color. If you don’t pay attention, the solids will go from golden brown to black and the flavor will be ruined. Use a shiny pan so you can see the solids turning brown, and stand over the pan while the butter heats.

Frying fresh sage is easy; telling when it’s done is not. If the leaf turns brown, it is overcooked. You might have to sacrifice one or two leaves before you can tell just when to remove them from the oil. The leaves will shrink and ruffle a bit, but the centers will still look greenish and pliable. As they drain and cool on paper towels, they will crisp up.


  • 10 tbsp. butter
  • 20 large sage leaves
  • 4 oz. paper-thin slices of prosciutto
  • 1 package (18 oz.) uncooked, refrigerated butternut squash ravioli
  • Coarse sea salt, fresh-ground pepper
Put a large pot of salted water on to boil.

In a medium skillet, heat 2 tablespoons butter until melted and sizzling. Fry sage leaves, a few at a time, over medium-high heat until they begin to shrink and look crisp. Transfer to paper towels. In same skillet, fry prosciutto slices in batches until they shrink slightly and begin to pucker. Drain on paper towels.

In a small shiny pan, melt remaining 8 tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally with a rubber spatula. Continue to heat and stir until the butter turns golden brown. Do not allow the solids that drop to the bottom of the pan to burn. Remove from heat.

Drop ravioli into boiling water and cook according to package directions, about 5 minutes for al dente. Drain. Divide ravioli among four shallow bowls. Pour brown butter over pasta and top with the sage and prosciutto. Season to taste with a pinch of the salt and some pepper. Makes 4 servings.


What I ate out last week:

Baked lemon chicken breast, mashed potatoes at St. Thomas Hospital cafeteria in Akron; wedge salad with white French dressing, filet mignon, sautéed spinach with garlic at Wise Guys in Akron; potato samosa, chicken vindaloo, curried chickpeas, basmati rice at Whole Foods 365 in Akron; thin-crust vegetable pizza from Earth Fare; cheeseburger Happy Meal from McDonald’s.

What I cooked at home last week:
Pressure-cooker venison pot roast (awful; first attempt at pressure cooking); Spicy New England Pot Roast with carrots and onions (great); chocolate pudding; raspberry sugar-free gelatin;  grilled t-bone steaks, baked potatoes.



For my birthday Tony took me to Wise Guys restaurant in the North Hill area of Akron. A friend had recommended it for steak and I’m glad she did.

I had eaten there several times when the restaurant was Nick Anthe’s, the latest about eight years ago with a friend, Joe Crea, the former food editor of the Plain Dealer. He was reviewing, I was eating — an alternate universe kind of situation for me. Even then the restaurant was a throwback to another era of crystal chandeliers, thick carpeting, polished woodwork and a menu of steaks, chicken picatta, Caesar salad and the like.

After it closed, gunsmith Tom Procaccio drove by the empty restaurant for two years before he rescued the landmark from oblivion.

“I just couldn’t stand seeing it sit there empty,” Procaccio says.

For never having owned a restaurant before, Procaccio has done a commendable job. He freshened the restaurant while keeping the best elements of the grand old Akron restaurant tradition — the cushy decor, special-occasion menu and a kitchen that has a way with steaks.

While the small filet I had was fine, I hear the ribeye is the bomb. At 22 ounces it is way too large for me, but I’ll coax Tony into ordering it the next time we go. I loved a side dish of garlicky, almost creamy sautéed spinach, and the white French dressing on a wedge salad was spot on.

Check out the menu at Then visit one evening after a trying day, when all you want to do is sink into a booth, snap open a snowy white napkin and immerse yourself in some culinary deja vu.


It’s autumn to most people, but to me it’s Asian pear season. I’ve already eaten a half dozen of the crisp fruit, and that’s only the beginning. I got a whole boxful last weekend at Weymouth Farms and Orchard in the southern reaches of Hinckley, the epicenter of Asian pear deliciousness as far as I’m concerned.

Brenda and Paul, the proprietors, have branched out (no pun intended) the last few years to apples and grapes for wine making, Paul’s latest passion, but the pears are what keep me coming back. Wow. They are crisp but unreasonably juicy. I will have no trouble polishing off that case.

The various varieties are ripening and selling quickly this year, Brenda notes, so if you want some, visit soon. For details, see


Dear readers: Somehow I lost several of your emails. I remember the gist of one of them and will reconstruct it below. If you sent me an email question or comment that I haven’t printed or responded to, please send it again if you have time. Thanks.

Q: You used a “dry white wine” in a recipe recently. What kind of wine do you buy?

A: All kinds, but usually a brut Champagne. I don’t buy any wine specifically for cooking unless I’m making a dish such as boeuf Bourguignon that uses an entire bottle. I can rarely polish off a bottle myself anymore, so I usually have leftover wine on hand for cooking. When I used to drink every bottle to the dregs, I would keep a bottle of white vermouth in the cabinet for recipes that called for less than a cup of white wine. Vermouth is a fortified wine (sugar is added), so it keeps for a long time.

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September 11, 2017

Dear friends,

I returned home from vacation to a garden that looks basically the same as before I left. The carrots are still an inch long. The eggplants are still barren. Two dainty yellow squash hide beneath the leaves of tidy little plants.

Guys, you had a “Home Alone” moment and you blew it? I was gone almost a month and nobody went wild?

The only bright spot was the tomatoes, which produced about 10 nice red and yellow globes ripe for eating. That’s not a great harvest for 12 plants, but it is more than Tony and I can eat before they spoil, so I had to get creative.

After a couple rounds of tomato sandwiches and sliced tomatoes with Japanese mayo and hot sauce (Tony’s idea), I tried to think of different ways to serve sliced tomatoes. The result of my brainstorming was a comforting casserole of tomato slices layered with garlic-Parmesan bread pudding. I added a scant bit of minced fresh rosemary because my potted specimen outperformed all the other herbs this year.

This casserole would be great to take to a pot luck because it looks enticing and actually improves in flavor and texture with standing. When hot from the oven it is a bit soupy. It firms up as it cools, and the flavors also mellow. I enjoyed it both at room temperature and cold. I served it as a side dish at dinner and the main event at lunch the next day. I even snuck a piece for breakfast, telling myself that eggs, bread and milk are proper morning foods.

Different colors of tomatoes make for a gorgeous casserole.


  • 4 cups milk (I used skim)
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped garlic
  • 8 cups stale bread cubes, about 1-inch square
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 16 medium-large tomato slices, 1/4-inch thick
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and oil a 9-by-13-inch pan with vegetable oil spray.

Combine milk and garlic in a 2-quart saucepan. Bring just to a boil. Remove from heat, cover and let steep for 30 minutes. Uncover and remove garlic with a slotted spoon or by straining. Cool milk to room temperature.

Place bread cubes in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, beat eggs with one-half cup Parmesan and salt. Whisk steeped milk into the egg mixture. Pour over bread cubes, pressing down with a spoon to soak all of the cubes. Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes.

Spread a single layer of soaked bread cubes in the prepared pan. Place 8 tomato slices over the bread. Sprinkle with half the rosemary. Top with remaining bread cubes and any milk mixture left in the bowl. Arrange remaining tomato slices on top. Sprinkle with the remaining rosemary and 2 tablespoons Parmesan.

Bake at 375 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes, until top just starts to puff. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature before cutting into squares. Makes 8 servings.


What I cooked last week:
Sliced tomatoes with homemade pesto; grilled steak salad, corn on the cob; sliced baked tomatoes with garlic-Parmesan bread pudding, mustard-glazed hamburgers with grilled onion slices.

What I ate out last week:
Pork tamales at a farmers’ market in Canon City, Colo.; cold ramen noodle salad with tempura shrimp at Tensuke Express in Columbus; Hawaiian pizza (yes, pineapple on pizza) from Rizzi’s Pizza in Copley; a hot dog with mustard and relish from a sidewalk vendor in Cleveland.

Note: Ham and pineapple pizza is Tony’s favorite (we alternate picks), but truthfully, I’ve come to like it.


From Peggy Schaefer:
Ages ago (maybe 6 years?) you had a recipe for Crockpot Ribs. They were easy to make, no cleanup to speak of, and absolutely DELISH!!!! I have gone through all of my recipes and cannot find it. I’m hoping that you will be able to come up with this recipe.

Dear Peggy: I searched my past columns without success. It doesn’t sound like the kind of recipe I’d run, since I’m pretty much a barbecued rib purist (charcoal grill, low and slow). But if I did offer such a recipe, it would have come from my favorite slow cooker book, “Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook” by Beth Hensperger. Here is her honey barbecue version, which she calls “ridiculously simple and splendidly delicious.”


  • 4 lbs. pork spareribs or baby back ribs, cut into 3- or
  • 4-rib serving pieces
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced
  • 1 bottle (16 oz.) prepared barbecue sauce
  • 1/2 cup mild-flavored honey

Arrange ribs and onions in the slow cooker in alternating layers. Combine barbecue sauce and honey in a medium-size bowl and mix until smooth. Spoon over the ribs. If you have a round slow cooker, spoon the sauce between the layers, too. Cover and cook on low until tender and the meat starts to separate from the bone, 8 to 9 hours.

Transfer ribs to a platter. Serve any extra sauce remaining in the pot in a bowl on the side. Serves 4 to 6.

From Kelly:
I want to try a recipe for Spanish Style Ribs with Salsa Verde I got from the Beacon Journal. Any idea if the Spanish paprika mentioned is actually smoked paprika? The recipe wasn’t clear whether it was or not. I tried to do an Internet search and got nowhere.

Regarding your search for locally sourced meat, we belong to a CSA run by Jason Bindel of Bindel Farms in Spencer. We get chickens and eggs as part of our CSA share plus a turkey at Thanksgiving. It’s a bit of a drive but this fall will be the third hog we have gotten from Jason, who raises heritage bred Tamworth pigs. If you haven’t tried heritage pork, you need to. You won’t be buying any commercial pork anymore. That’s bland and full of who knows what compared to heritage bred pork. Giant Eagle Marketplace in Green and Cuyahoga Falls carry heritage Berkshire pork if you want to try it. Thats where I go if I run out before our Bindel pork is ready.

Also, this fall will be our third time getting a half a cow from Mark Roesner at Copley Feed & Supply. We’ve been very happy with the beef. There’s nothing better than having cows raised locally under humane conditions and almost organic. We’ve been healthier since we buy meat from local farmers.

Dear Kelly: I hope you don’t mind that I shared so much of your letter, but the information will be of interest to a lot of people. Regarding Spanish paprika, I’m pretty sure your recipe is calling for smoked paprika. The spice stores I called carry only smoked in the Spanish paprika. My research tells me that smoking is the standard way peppers for paprika are processed in Spain.

From Sue M.:
This is probably a stupid question and I’ve been cooking for more years than you’ve been alive BUT how long can you keep a cooked chicken in the fridge? I love to buy a whole chicken to roast and have leftovers for more meals. There are just the two of us. I know I can freeze the leftovers but I don’t always like the taste of frozen cooked meat. And we don’t seem to eat as much as we used to. So if I make chicken salad the day after the roast chicken, when should I toss it? I have a friend who keeps food forever and hasn’t killed anyone yet. I always think I toss it too quickly. So, you’re the expert, what do you do?

Dear Sue: The standard line from food-safety types is to keep cooked poultry for no longer than four days in the refrigerator. I sometimes fudge that by a day if the chicken still smells fresh. Providing the cooked chicken has been kept cold (below 40 degrees) at all times, the food-safety danger is not from bacteria but from spoilage — essentially, age. Scientists I’ve interviewed in the past have said rotting food, as unappetizing as that sounds, is not as much of a health hazard as bacteria-infected food.

In sum, if you want to be very safe (if a member of your household has a compromised immune system, for example), keep cooked poultry cold and pitch it after four days. Otherwise, rely on your nose and common sense.

From Sue W.:
Regarding your question on where to buy high-quality seafood: Earthfare has good, fresh seafood. It’s the only place I will buy it other than Bay Lobster.

From Sue B.:
Costco sells great fish — yes, in quantity but I separate, label and date the package.

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August 23, 2017

Dear friends,

I finally had to spell it out for Tony: I travel to places in order to eat. I will not just blow through New Mexico so we can dawdle up Route 9 in Colorado, keeping an eye out for elk and deer. I would rather dawdle in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, searching out green chile burritos and sopapillas stuffed with carne adovada.

At my insistence, we spent three days in New Mexico on our way to see Tony’s son, Nico, in Colorado. The route change was last-minute, after I explained I could not face another interminable drive through Iowa and Kansas, and certainly not Nebraska, which Tony thought might be worth a detour. What, you’ve never seen corn before?

We made a quick stop in Albuquerque for lunch at one of my favorite restaurants, Sadie’s, which was a tad disappointing. The New Mexican food is still good, but it is not transcendent, as it was in the days before Sadie’s grew to three restaurants.

Santa Fe the city disappointed me, too. What happened to that charming village square I remember from the 1980s? It is now crowded, kind of dirty, and basically Disney with howling coyote trinkets.

New Mexican food, built on corn meal and green chiles, is unstoppable, though. Turns out one of the best meals we had was at a modern little cafe on a winding route known as the Turquoise Trail between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The clientele at Cafe Fina appeared to be old hippies with a sprinkling of tourists. The food was handmade and the welcome was warm.

Customers order at a counter, pour their own coffee, grab some tableware and take a seat. The food is delivered to the table. I had a simple Southwestern breakfast of migas — eggs soft-scrambled with chiles, salsa and tortilla chips. The tortilla chips, homemade at Cafe Fina, soften in the salsa, leaving bits of crisp edges for crunch.

I shared bites with Tony as we read the local newspaper and sipped coffee. I think he’s beginning to understand the idea of food as a travel destination.

When I make the following recipe at home, I buy good, fresh corn tortillas at a Mexican grocery and cut them into sixths, like a pie, with scissors. Then I spray the triangles with olive oil or vegetable oil spray and bake at 400 degrees until crisp.



  • 6 eggs
  • 1 tsp. powdered cumin
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 6 green onions, trimmed and sliced
  • 1 Nu-Mex or Anaheim pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 2 cups tortilla chips (preferably homemade from corn tortillas)
  • 3/4 cup green or red salsa
  • Salt, pepper
  • Sour cream
  • 1 ripe avocado, sliced
Beat eggs with cumin and basil. Set aside.

Melt butter in a large skillet. Sauté onions and peppers until softened. Over medium heat, add egg mixture and begin to stir. When eggs begin to set, stir in cheese and tortilla chips. When cheese is about half melted, stir in salsa. Continue to stir until mixture is warm, cheese is melted and eggs are set. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Scoop onto plates and top with a dollop of sour cream and a couple of slices of avocado. Serves 4.


What I cooked last week:
Ratatouille, microwaved sweet potatoes.

What I ate in restaurants last week:
A hamburger on a toasted bun with mustard, pickle, lettuce and onion and a hamburger with chlii sauce and cheese (lunch and dinner), chili-cheese fries from Vicco’s Charcoalburger Drive In (“Since 1953”) in Glenwood Springs, Colo.; huevos rancheros with two crisp tortillas, over-easy eggs, green chile sauce and sour cream at the Grand Ave Grill in Eagle, Colo.; Salvadoran pork-stuffed pupusa and a chicken empanada at Sal-Mex Restaurant in Glenwood Springs; stir-fried shredded pork and cabbage, beef teriyaki and coconut rice at the Ekahi Grill (Hawaiian food) in Gypsum, Colo.; bacon, eggs and pancakes at Village Inn in Glenwood Springs; chili dog and incredible batter-dipped onion rings at Vicco’s Drive In.

Note: Vicco’s Drive In was a find. The burger patties were 1/2-inch thick, imbued with smoke, and served on buttered, charcoal-grilled buns. The modest, mid-century modern building (actually a hut with flying buttresses) is showing its age with vintage drive-up order speakers and sliding walk-up windows that appear to have been constructed during the Eisenhower administration. The place is always busy, but the wait for food shouldn’t be more than 10 minutes. If you go try the elk burger.


From O.R.:
I’ve been having a hard time finding pappardelle pasta at area grocers.. Do you or your readers know of any stores that carry it? Either fresh or dried is fine. Additionally, if it’s on the menu at any Italian eateries around here, I’d love to know about that as well. Thank you.

Dear O.R.: The wide pasta noodles are available both dried and frozen at DeVitis Italian Market in the North Hill area of Akron. The dried varieties are Delverde and De Cecco and the fresh-frozen, Pastasa. The store is one of my favorite food destinations in Akron. While you’re there, snag a loaf of fresh (sometimes still warm) Massoli’s Italian bread, a homemade Italian sub for lunch, and house-made lasagne for the freezer.

If not on the menu, I’ve certainly seen pappardelle in specials at Russo’s Restaurant near Peninsula, Papa Joe’s in the Merriman Valley and Vaccaro’s Trattoria in Bath.

You could easily make your own, you know. In a food processor combine 1 cup flour, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 egg and a pinch of salt. Pulse several times. With the motor running, pour water in a very thin stream through the feed tube just until the dough clumps together to form a ball. After the dough rests for 20 minutes, knead it in a hand-crank pasta machine to make very thin sheets about 1 foot long each. Alternatively, knead it by hand for several minutes, then roll out until thin enough to see your hand through.

Dust sheets of pasta with flour. Roll up like cigars. Cut 1-inch wide pieces and unroll. Cook in boiling, salted water until noodles float to the surface, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Okay, maybe it would be easier to buy it.

Winner of two James Beard Awards for food writing.

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August 17, 2017

Dear friends,

I dug myself out of a rut last week by vowing to try a new Chinese stir-fry recipe that doesn’t start with my homemade spicy-hot stir-fry sauce. I love the gutsy flavors of Chinese chili-garlic sauce, sweet soy sauce, hoisin and all the other stuff I put in my sauce, but I wondered what I’ve been missing.

Here’s what: Crunchy Chinese noodle cakes. Yeow.

While I’ve been stir frying with my sauce, the noodle-cake recipe has been hiding out in my row of Chinese cookbooks. Last week I used the recipe from Nina Simonds’ “Asian Noodles,” in which she tops the crisp cake with thin ribbons of beef in a garlic-oyster sauce stir fry.

Nina’s recipes are both reliable and reliably streamlined, although the whole thing in this case did take a couple of sessions in the kitchen. I boiled the noodles and made the marinade and sauce one day, and cooked it all the next. It’s summer and I didn’t want to spend too much time in the kitchen.

I liked the garlic-oyster sauce stir fry (although I missed the kerpow of chiles) but I loved, loved, loved the noodle cake. Wheat noodles (thin spaghetti can substitute for the Chinese round, yellowish wheat noodles I used) are boiled until al dente, then drained very well and tossed with sesame oil. While warm, they are packed into an oiled, 9-inch-round cake pan. They are refrigerated until the cake is cool and the noodles stick together in a disk. Then they are fried on both sides until brown and crisp on the outside but warm and soft inside.

I see many noodle cake variations in my future. I could pack the noodles into individual flan pans for single-serve noodle cakes. I could toss the boiled noodles with snipped fresh herbs such as chives before packing them into the cake pan. I could season the boiled noodles with at bit of, yes, my homemade Szechuan stir-fry sauce. See, I’m willing to climb out of my rut — but not too far.



(from “Asian Noodles” by Nina Simonds)
Panfried noodle cake (recipe follows)
  • 1 lb. beef flank or flatiron steak

  • 3 1/2 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp. rice wine or sake
  • 2 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 5 1/2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1/2 lb. shiitake mushrooms, sliced thin
  • 2 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 3/4 lb. snow peas
  • 2 tbsp. rice wine or sake
Oyster sauce:

  • 1 1/2 cups rich chicken broth
  • 6 tbsp. oyster sauce
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. rice wine or sake
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. cornstarch
Make the noodle cake and keep warm in a low oven.

Trim any fat from meat and cut into 1/6-inch slices. Make the marinade and the oyster sauce. In a bowl, combine the beef with the marinade, tossing to lightly coat.

Heat a wok or heavy skillet over high heat. Add 3 1/2 tablespoons of the oil and heat until almost smoking. Stir-fry the beef slices until they lose their pink color and separate. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain in a colander. Wipe out the pan.

Reheat the pan and add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. When hot, add the mushrooms, garlic and ginger and stir fry for 1 minute. Add the snow peas and rice wine and stir fry for 1 1/2 minutes. Give the sauce a stir. Add to the pan and cook over high heat, stirring constantly until thickened. Add the beef and toss gently in the sauce. Spoon over the noodles and serve.


  • 3/4 lb. thin, round Chinese wheat-flour noodles or angel hair pasta
  • 2 1/2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp. toasted sesame oil

Cook the noodles in boiling water according to package directions, until just al dente. Drain well. Add sesame oil and toss. Transfer noodles to an oiled, 9-inch-round cake pan and let cool.

Heat a well-seasoned skillet over high heat until very hot. Add the vegetable oil and heat until almost smoking. Invert the noodle cake into the hot pan. Fry over medium-high heat, shaking occasionally so noodles don’t stick, until a deep golden brown on the bottom, 5 to 8 minutes. Using a large spatula, flip the noodle cake and brown the other side. Transfer to a heat-proof platter and keep warm in a low oven until ready to eat.


What I cooked last week: Egg salad sandwiches.

What I ate in (and from) restaurants last week:
Shrimp sunomono (vinegared seaweed salad) from Sushi Katsu in Akron; fried chicken salad and one jo jo potato from Huck’s gas station in Mt. Vernon, Ill.; pork and green chile stew with flour tortillas, sour cream and guacamole at Michoacanos Mexican Restaurant in Chandler, Okla.; scrambled eggs and a biscuit with blackberry jam at the Cherokee Trading Post Restaurant near Oklahoma City, Okla.; sopapillas stuffed with carne adovada at Sadie’s in Albuquerque, N.M.; migas (scrambled eggs, tortillas and cheese), black beans, and a whole-wheat tortilla at Cafe Fina in Santa Fe., N.M.; chicken teriyaki sub from Subway somewhere in Colorado.


From Carol P.:
I have given up buying fish. It all seems to come from China or thereabouts. Where do you buy fish? I have seen wild-caught fish labeled country of origin “China.” Even Alaskan-caught fish is questionable. And farm raised? Forget it after the feeding videos I have seen. I miss fish terribly. Once in a while a friend will bring us some from Lake Erie, but not often enough.

Dear Carol: You make some very good points. I can’t recommend most farm-raised fish, either, and as someone who has sent supermarket seafood away for bacterial testing, I am leery of a lot of stuff in stores. The key is to find purveyors you trust. That’s why you wrote to me, right?

Unfortunately, I have not bought much seafood in years because I’ve been eating pristine stuff Tony bought from a trusted sushi fish company. It does not sell to consumers, and our freezer supply is waning so I’ll have to address the issue soon.

Pre-Tony, I trusted Mustard Seed Market and Bay Lobsters Fish Market, which has now moved to Wooster ( I would like to know where else people shop for seafood.

Note I did not say “fresh” seafood. We who live in the nation’s midsection cannot expect to buy “fresh” seafood unless we know someone who drives to the coast, buys seafood off a day boat, ices it down and speeds back home. What I look for is fresh-frozen — that is, fish frozen on the boat right after it is caught, and transported still frozen to the hinterlands. Most stores thaw the fish before selling it, in which case you should use it the same day you buy it. If you must keep the seafood for even a day, try to buy stuff that is still frozen.

By law, anyone who sells fish must have inspection tags with origin and safety information available for anyone to look at. So when you ask where the fish came from, you can also ask the merchant to prove it. The tags don’t have to be on the premises, but the must be made available.

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August 9, 2017

Dear friends,
My major crops this year are Chinese eggplants and tomatoes. I planted about 12 tomato plants and have harvested at least a dozen ripe beauties, with many more on the way. I planted a dozen eggplant seedlings, too, and the plants are gorgeously robust. But the slackers have not produced a single flower yet, let alone an eggplant.

The ratatouille cannot wait any longer. I crave the sunny flavors of eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes simmered with garlic and finished with fresh-ground black pepper. This year I gilded the lily by drizzling homemade pesto over the platter of vegetables just before serving.

Even without the pesto, my ratatouille probably would not be recognized in southern France, the area of its birth. In the original, the vegetables are stewed until they softly melt into each other. I prefer more stand-offish vegetables that soften but keep to themselves.

The following recipe is a riff on Patricia Wells’ version from “At Home in Provence.” I like her trick of adding liquid (in this case, tomatoes) to sautéed garlic to stop the cooking and keep it from burning.

Long, thin Chinese eggplants are beginning to show up in farmers’ markets and even mainstream supermarkets. If you can’t find them, try an Asian market. They are worth searching out because they are not bitter, like globe eggplants can be. Even the skin is edible.


Trim eggplant and zucchini and cut in halves lengthwise, then into 1 1/2-inch lengths. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Stir fry eggplant until it begins to brown on edges. Add zucchini and stir fry until almost tender. Add salt and garlic and stir fry until garlic begins to brown. Add tomatoes and vinegar and cook over high heat until tomatoes are soft and most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir in pepper. Remove from heat and stir in pesto. Serve warm, cold or at room temperature.
  • 4 Chinese eggplant, about 6 to 8 inches long
  • 4 zucchini, about 6 to 8 inches long
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 3 lbs. ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 2 tsp. red wine vinegar
  • Fresh-ground pepper
  • 2 tbsp. pesto (homemade or purchased)


Peeling and seeding tomatoes is not a chore I enjoy, but knowing the proper technique reduces the hair-pulling tremendously. There are two ways you can do it. If you have a bunch of tomatoes to peel, drop them in a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds, then transfer to a bowl of ice water. The skin will slip right off.

For one or two tomatoes, cut an “x” in the stem end of a medium-size tomato and microwave on high power for 30 seconds. When the tomato is cool enough to handle, peel off the skin.

To seed a tomato, cut it in half horizontally and gently squeeze out the seeds.


What I cooked last week:
Homemade pizza with sliced tomatoes, basil, mozzarella and Parmesan; pan-fried noodles with beef stir fry; grill-smoked prime rib, baked new potatoes, sliced ripe tomatoes with mayonnaise and hot sauce; meatloaf, corn on the cob, little tomatoes eaten like apples.

What I ate out last week:
A crab cake slider, meatloaf slider, greens and beans at Arnie’s Public House in the Wallhaven area of Akron; fried fish fillet, coleslaw at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth; beef kibbee, meat fatayer at Our Lady of the Cedars’ Lebanese food festival in Copley; an Original Cuban Sandwich (pretty good) at Mi Casa Mexican restaurant in Hartville; a Southern Slaw Dog (Coney sauce and slaw) at the Copley Heritage Festival.


From Cindy W.:
Re: Jo Jo potatoes — I first encountered the thick, wedged, skin-on, deep-fried potatoes named “Jo Jos” at a Moscow, Idaho pizza joint while in law school at the University of Idaho in 1971. They were offered as an appetizer or side and served with sour cream (often with chives) for dipping. So no, Debbie C., they aren’t unique to Akron, my hometown, where I’d never seen them on any menu before 1971.

Dear Cindy: Idaho?! Isn’t it enough that the state lays claim to baking potatoes? Must they steal our Jo Jos too?

From Barb Hipsman-Springer:
You mentioned line-caught salmon last week. The following group is out to educate consumers on where to buy fish. Mostly West Coast, but the video was put together by my daughter, Kyla Springer Yeoman for EdoTrust and Local Catch.

Dear Barb: Congratulations on having such a talented daughter. The organization, Local Catch, educates consumers about the eco superiority of “wild, sustainable, traceable, healthy” fish. The video (and the site) is worth a look. So far, no retailers in Ohio, but the list is sure to grow.

From Martha K.:
I, and my dining companion, loved the Vietnamese meatball taco (at Bombas)! It’s hardly taco fare, but I enjoyed the flavors and the fresh crunch of the jicama slaw. To each his own, eh?

Dear Martha: I am happy to print opposing views. I thought the flavor was OK, but my meatballs had an unpleasant, mushy texture. Sure you didn’t have a couple of mojitos before tasting?
(Just kidding, my friend).

Winner of two James Beard Awards for food writing.

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August 3, 2017

Dear friends,

In my former life as a privileged food editor, I once got to taste salmon fresh off the boat, line-caught and served by a fisherman in Oregon. He laid four huge sides of briefly cooked salmon on a table. No seasonings, no sauces. As my cohorts and I tasted, he explained the differences in taste and texture between king (chinook), sockeye, coho and pink (and between line-caught and net dredged, wild and farm-raised). So when I say I prefer wild sockeye salmon, you can bet I have thought a lot about it.

Not that my opinion is the last word; many salmon lovers prefer king, which usually is the most expensive because of its high oil content and silken texture. But I prefer the meatiness and mild but distinctive flavor of sockeye. With its brilliant reddish-pink flesh, it looks great on a plate, too.

I was thrilled when I saw wild sockeye fillets in Sam’s recently. I bought an 18-incher, ate it, and went back a few days later for another. I was so happy I turned each salmon into an occasion. The first salmon was charcoal-grilled, drizzled with basil vinaigrette and served atop a Nicoise-like salad. The second was also grilled and served with a few lashings of horseradish mayonnaise and some ratatouille.

Grilling may be the ultimate way to cook salmon. The smoke contributes to the flavor, and the bottom heat cooks the fish beautifully. You don’t need a fish basket or foil or anything else to cook salmon. Don’t worry about flipping it — that step is completely unnecessary. Just place the fish skin-side down over the coals, cover the grill and cook for about 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Most fillets will be under an inch thick, so subtract time accordingly.

When the fish is done — to check, insert the pointed tip of a sharp knife vertically into the fish, pull aside some flesh, and see if the interior is opaque — simply slide a big spatula between the fish and the skin and lift it off the grill, leaving the skin behind. You may need two spatulas, working from each end, if the fillet is large and your spatulas small.

I like salmon slightly underdone. I think the texture and flavor are best when it is not quite cooked through. Suit your own taste, but don’t overcook salmon or it will be dry and tasteless.

Use sockeye if you can find it for the following recipe, or if not, any large salmon fillet that weighs about 1 pound. A piece of fish that size, with the accompanying vegetables, will be enough to serve four.





Basil vinaigrette:

  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/3 cup white wine vinegar
  • 12 large basil leaves
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. pine nuts
  • 3/4 cup olive oil

Drop the garlic cloves through the feed tube of a food processor while the motor runs. When finely chopped, remove lid and add vinegar, basil, salt and pine nuts. Cover and process, slowly adding oil through the feed tube, until dressing is smooth and creamy. Transfer to a lidded jar and set aside.


  • 6 oz. green beans, trimmed
  • 1 lb. tiny new potatoes
  • 1/2 cup Nicoise olives (small, black, wrinkled)
  • 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes

In a medium saucepan, bring about 2 quarts of water to a rapid boil. Add beans and cook about 5 minutes, until just tender. With a slotted spoon or long-handled strainer, transfer beans to a strainer and refresh under cold water. Drain well.

Add the potatoes to the same boiling water and cook until tender. Drain. Cut in half and add to the bowl with the beans. Add olives and tomatoes. Toss with 2 tablespoons of the basil dressing. Set aside.


  • 1 large (1 lb.) salmon fillet, preferably sockeye
  • Olive oil
  • Coarse sea salt

Build a charcoal fire in a grill. Pat salmon dry with paper towels. Place on a baking sheet, skin side down, and lightly oil top of fish with the olive oil.

Season well with sea salt. When the coals have ashed over, spread them n a swath the size of the fish. Place fish, skin side down, over coals, adding soaked wood chips if desired.

Cover grill, leaving vents open. Grill until salmon is barely cooked through, about 7 to 10 minutes depending on the heat of the coals and the thickness of the fish.

While the salmon cooks, transfer the salad to a platter. With a large spatula (or two), transfer fish to the platter, placing it on top of the salad. Drizzle 2 or 3 tablespoons of the basil dressing over the fish.

Makes 4 servings.


What I cooked at home last week:
Sloppy Joes, potato salad, corn on the cob; avocado toast with two eggs over hard and hot sauce; pesto; grilled sockeye salmon with pesto ratatouille; high-protein chocolate ice cream; mojo-criollo pan-grilled shrimp in shells, gazpacho; warm leftover ratatouille with a poached egg on top; tomato and pesto sandwich; hamburgers on toasted, buttered ciabatta buns with Swiss cheese and sliced tomatoes.

What I ate in restaurants last week:
A chicken taco and a Vietnamese meatball taco (yuk) at Bomba Tacos & Rum in Montrose; fajita salad with beef at Tres Potrillos in Medina; Southwest chile-lime salad with smoked chicken at Panera; prosciutto and melon salad, mussels in a spicy tomato-caper sauce with grilled bread at Wolf Creek Tavern in Norton.


The Saturday morning Seville Farm Market is one of my favorites. It doesn’t have the selection of a Countryside Farmers Market or Medina Farmers Market, but it is still worth the drive. It is small but mighty.

The 10 or so booths set up in Maria Stanhope Park on Main Street last Saturday had so many treasures I came home loaded down. The purveyors, from either proclivity or necessity, are generalists. They each offer an array of items — say, a bag of three red-skin potatoes dug the day before, several heads of hard-stem garlic and a few baskets of peaches. Or a half-dozen turkey eggs, homemade tortillas, baggies of pizza dough, a couple of coffee cakes and an array of jams.

The women purveyors are artisans. The jams I bought were brandied sour cherry and sugar plum with ice wine. I bought fresh homemade tagliatelle pasta, homemade English muffins, a homemade bagel and crusty bread. The women (there were no men) are mostly backyard farmers, and bring ripe produce picked or dug just before going to the market. I spotted an almond-shaped greyhound cabbage, and the two big heirloom tomatoes I bought were summer-sandwich worthy. Also, the prices are relatively low.

If you have a great recipe for zucchini, the Aug. 12market is the one to visit. That’s when the annual Zucchini Smackdown will be held. For details about the contest and the market ( 9 a.m. to noonSaturdays), see



Thank heavens I didn’t have to take the citizenship test along with Tony. The U.S. Constitution was not written in 1837, as I wrote last week. It was written in 1787, a little more than a decade after we declared our independence from Great Britain. Thank you to Chris Myers for pointing that out, and a big thanks to everyone who sent congratulations to Tony for passing the test and becoming an American citizen.



From Judy:
Thank you for the link to the list of authentic olive oils (not adulterated with seed oils or masquerading as extra virgin). Nice to see that the Carlini brand from Aldi is good!

Dear Judy: Thanks for pointing that out. Now I know where to buy reasonably priced, authenticated olive oil.

From Tom N.:
After looking at the NAOOA link you published in your last newsletter, it got me thinking about the olive oil I buy, a California-based EVOO from California Olive Ranch. The label on the bottle has a seal on it from the COOC, or the California Olive Oil Council. On the surface, it would appear to be a similar certification body, but for California oils. The organization’s site has information on the seal and the certification process, and a list of brands that sport the seal is at

Dear Tom: Yes, that is a certification offered just for California oils. I mistakenly omitted it when I wrote the item last week. Thanks for correcting my oversight.

From Debbie C.:
Darren B., how about spreading the Jo Jos word, too? It seems that Northeast Ohio is the only place you can find these little pieces of heaven.

Dear Debbie: Hey, we have to keep some things all to ourselves.

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July 26, 2017

Dear friends,
Two days before Tony became an American citizen, he plopped a 3-pound, long-bone prime rib in our grocery cart at Sam’s Club and announced, “This is what I want for my citizenship dinner,” then added, “can you cook it?”

“Are you kidding?” I scoffed. “It will be so delicious you’ll weep.”

I went about planning the dinner the next two days, ignoring Tony’s references to the meat as “my steak.” I realized he wasn’t kidding when, a couple of hours before the meal, Tony assured me he would share a bit of it with me. A bit?

By this time Tony had arranged the caveman-like hunk of meat on the kitchen counter in front of his naturalization certificate, with a little American flag stuck in the meat. He was photographing it when he made the offer to share his “steak.”

“That’s not your steak,” I finally snapped. “It’s a 3-pound rib roast!”

I was sorry to disappoint him on one of the happiest days of our marriage, but the guy was insane if he thought I’d sit on the sidelines while he ate an entire prime rib. I had my eye on that baby, too. It would be a luxe finale to a difficult process that began in February at the International Institute of Akron.

For four months, three evenings a week, Tony attended citizenship classes in preparation for an exam at the Immigration and Naturalization Services offices in Cleveland. For four months he also studied every day at home learning such arcane facts as the date the Constitution was written (1837) and the purpose of the Federalist Papers (to sell the Constitution to the colonies). For four months I drilled him with flash cards and tried to answer questions about how our current Congress works (or doesn’t work.)

Tony passed the test in late June and took his oath Friday at the Federal Court House in Cleveland. We were both so proud. In the hallway outside the judge’s chamber he signed up to vote and we chatted with fellow Akron-area honoree Quinn Lee. It was a moving experience, but the glow didn’t last long. On the way home, all Tony could talk about was his “steak.”

I knew exactly how I would prepare it. After I removed it from the photo tableau, I patted it dry with paper towels and cut away a bit — not much — of extraneous fat. I seasoned it lightly, coated it with olive oil and plopped it on one side of the charcoal grill over a drip pan, the other side loaded with ashed-over coals.

While the meat roasted I made a simple horseradish sauce of mayo, lots of prepared horseradish, and some milk to thin it. Tony and I cut corn kernels from some of the first ears of summer (from Graf Growers) and I sautéed them in a skillet with butter and a handful of sliced green beans, with coarse sea salt at the end. Grape-sized new potatoes were boiled until tender, halved and tossed with a spoonful of basil vinaigrette left over from an earlier meal.

My way of cooking grill-smoked prime rib is elemental. Not much stands between the flavor of the meat and your tastebuds. I have seen more-complicated recipes and one day I may slather the meat with mustard, dust it with flour and coat it with olive oil before grilling.

Or maybe not. While Tony didn’t weep, he ran out of superlatives for the smoky, juicy, tender hunk of meat. He dug into it like a true American.




  • 1 beef rib roast, bone in, about 3 lbs.
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground pepper
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 to 3 tbsp. prepared horseradish sauce
  • Milk to thin
  • Soaked wood chips (hickory or apple preferred)

Remove roast from wrapping and pat dry with paper towels. Trim away some of the surface fat, leaving enough to moisten and flavor the meat. In a custard cup, combine the salt, pepper and rosemary. Rub all over the meat. Rub the meat with olive oil to moisten and prevent it from sticking to the grill.

Place a foil pan on one side of a charcoal grill. Mound about 40 charcoal briquettes on the other side. Light the coals and let burn until completely ashed over. Scatter a handful of soaked wood chips over the coals. Place the roast on the grill grid over the foil pan. Close the grill lid, vents open fully.

Roast meat for 30 minutes without removing grill lid. Remove lid, add a few briquettes if necessary and a few more wood chips. Turn meat front to back and side to side so that the part that was closest to the coals is now farthest away. Cover and roast about 30 minutes more, checking after 20 minutes with an instant-read thermometer shoved into the thickest part of the meat. For rare, remove when thermometer registers 140 degrees. For medium rare, 150 degrees. The meat will continue to cook after it is removed from the grill.

Let meat rest for 20 minutes before cutting. Meanwhile, combine mayonnaise and horseradish to taste in a small bowl. Thin with milk to a desired consistency. The sauce should be thinner than mayonnaise but still cling to the meat.

Serves four amply.


What I ate in restaurants last week:
A bacon, lettuce and fried green tomato sandwich at the Harp in Cleveland; crispy spring rolls with duck sauce and shrimp and chicken summer rolls with a weird peanut sauce at Taste of Bangkok in downtown Akron (eh).

What I cooked last week:
Ciabatta pizza with fresh-chopped tomatoes, basil, garlic, olive oil, mozzarella and prosciutto; scrambled egg and avocado on toast; grilled salmon Nicoise; grill-smoked prime rib with horseradish sauce, sautéed fresh corn off the cob and green beans, and baby potatoes with basil vinaigrette; salami and tomato sandwiches with basil leaves; cornbread, hot dogs and baked beans.

Note: We have been eating a lot of salami lately because Tony lugged home a 4-inch-round, foot-long dried salami.


From Darren B.:
Thanks for being one of my links to Akron. I live in Chicago now and have on lived in Akron since 1994 but like to stay in touch with my hometown and you make this possible. My parents still live in Bath Township and my mother is always saving articles from the Beacon to send me but I still look forward to my weekly dose of Jane. Please know that I am spreading the word about sauerkraut balls here in Chicago and gaining loyal followers of this amazing NE Ohio hors d’oeuvre. Now if we could just get someone to give up the recipe for Yanko’s Beachcomber!

Dear Darren: Thank you for the kind words, and keep spreading the sauerkraut balls gospel. Has enough time passed that someone is finally wiling to share the Beachcomer recipe? Anyone?

From Betty C.:
We know now that most olive oils on the grocery shelves are fake. I want the “real” stuff that promises health benefits. What olive oil is authentic? Please help.

Dear Betty: The olive oils on grocery shelves are not all fake, although some advertised as “extra virgin” may not be, and some may be adulterated with other kinds of oil. Admittedly, it is a bit of a mess. A 2010 study by the University of California at Davis (and several subsequent studies) found that not all of the oils advertised as “extra virgin” meet the legal standard (historically, oil from the first cold pressing; legally, oil that passes a battery of chemical and sensory tests.)

Luckily, olive oil doesn’t have to be extra virgin to provide the health benefits of consuming monounsaturated fat. All consumable grades of olive oil may help ease hypertension and reduce the risk of heart disease.

But worse than the extra-virgin scandal, “60 Minutes” reported last year on a German study that found many olive oils were adulterated with seed oils such as sunflower and Canola oils. According to an article in Forbes, pure olive oil has historically been cut with less expensive oils, and it’s difficult to tell by taste, look or smell. The only way to be sure is to test it chemically, which the North American Olive Oil Association does.

If you care about getting what you pay for, check out the list of olive oil brands certified for authenticity by the North American Olive Oil Association

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July 20, 2017

Note: A publishing glitch held up last week’s newsletter until Monday, July 17. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Dear friends,

I surely ate well last week, considering I didn’t cook a shred of food. Nothing. Nada. Some of the blame goes to my shoulder (I tore the rotator cuff in a fall and now need a shoulder replacement). But mostly, I couldn’t resist all the barbecue, hot chicken, biscuits and Coney dogs flung in my path.

Tony thinks we went to Asheville, N.C. to see the Smoky Mountains and drive the Blue Ridge Parkway. The real reason, of course, was the food. With the exception of New Orleans, North Carolina is probably my favorite food region in the United States. Western North Carolina, where we went, is even better than my usual haunts along the coast because a bit of Tennessee cuisine bleeds across the border, giving us the best of two states. Yes, I’m talking about hot chicken.

We couldn’t believe our luck when we spotted Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack just a couple of miles from our campground on the western edge of Asheville. Tony made a U-turn, parked, and we queued up at the ordering window. Yup, this is the stuff, we agreed as a tray of meals sailed past. The cayenne-red fried chicken was crunchy-crisp, spicy hot and faintly honey-sweet. I think it was even better than the hot chicken we had in Memphis a couple of years ago. It was so good we ate there twice in five days. The biscuits were world-class, too.

We would have eaten at Rocky’s more often but we had barbecue to find and hush puppies to snarf down. We did both at Hawg Wild Bar-B-Que in Pisgah Forest, N.C. We had to really hunt for a good barbecue place. Barbecue doesn’t seem to be as plentiful in the western part of the state as in the east. Also, restaurants make a big deal of the difference between the regional styles. All of the good stuff is whole-hog, naturally, but western style comes with ketchup-based sauce while eastern style has vinegar-based sauce. Hawg Wild’s barbecue was so smoky and juicy I couldn’t see covering up the flavor with red sauce. I had eastern style along with creamy coleslaw and a clutch of hush puppies.

I ate hush puppies everywhere I could, from the Hot Dog King (great Coney dogs packed with relish) to the barbecue place. I love those little cornbread nuggets, especially when they are laced with jalapeños as they were at the Hot Dog King.

The one place I didn’t get hush puppies and didn’t miss them was Rhubarb, an upscale Asheville restaurant helmed by chef John Fleer, a multiple James Beard nominee for best chef in the Southeast. Fleer executes his modern Southern menu perfectly, and I don’t say that lightly.It was the best meal I’ve had in a very long time.

Six components, all stellar, went into my entree of duck confit over Swiss chard. Tucked under the two duck legs and thigh was also a palm-sized sweet potatoes Anna (thin sliced, formed into a cake) infused with so much umami flavor it had to have been roasted in duck fat. Scattered over everything was “wet” walnuts that tasted of Bourbon but somehow remained crisp, and tiny sprinkles of sweet marinated garlic. A wide swath of rhubarb sauce streaked one side of the plate.

Most diners the evening we visited chose to sit outside on the covered patio overlooking Pack Square. I’m glad Tony and I opted for the dining room, a high-ceilinged space that looked like a rubber shop mid-rehab. The plaster walls were gouged and spotted with bits of old paint. Big industrial-looking lights dangled from the ceiling. We sat near the open kitchen, with a good view of the two brick ovens.

I’m sorry I couldn’t get Fleer’s recipe for sweet potatoes Anna, but you can bet I’ll be working on it here at home. Meanwhile, here’s a recipe for jalapeño hush puppies, humble but just as Southern and almost as delicious.


  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup finely minced onion
  • 3 cups milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups diced pickled jalapeños
  • Oil for frying

Combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, salt and onion in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs and vinegar. With a wooden spoon, stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just until combined. Stir in the jalapeños. Do not over mix.

Heat at least 2 inches of oil to 375 degrees in a wide, deep pot or deep fryer. Drop tablespoons of the batter into the hot oil. Do not crowd. Fry for about 5 minutes or until golden brown. Break open the first couple of hush puppies to check for doneness.

Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels. Salt if desired. Continue until all of the batter has been used. Makes about 6 to 8 servings.


Local corn should be ready for picking any day now. Rufener Hilltop Farms in Portage County will “hopefully” start picking this week, says manager Lana Rufener. “At the latest by (this) weekend.”

At Graf Growers on White Pond Drive in Akron, “local” this year will actually be a farm about 45 minutes south of Akron, according to Karlie Graf, marketing manager. Graf’s fields were too wet for planting this spring, so the Grafs contracted with another farm to grow corn using Graf seeds and techniques, such as hydrocooling the picked corn. Daily shipments should begin July 18, Karlie says.

Wherever you buy your corn, call first to avoid a disappointment.


What I ate in restaurants last week: Southwest avocado-tortilla-lime salad at Panera; cheeseburger Happy Meal at McDonald’s; oysters with country ham and cornbread stuffing, confit of duck with rhubarb sauce at Rhubarb in Asheville, N.C.; hot chicken thigh, collard greens, biscuit, corn pudding at Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack in Asheville, N.C.; Coney dog with relish, hush puppies at the Hot Dog King in Candler, N.C.; country ham sandwich and sliced tomatoes at Genny’s Family Restaurant in Chimney Rock, N.C.; more hot chicken; and chopped pork barbecue, coleslaw and hush puppies at Hawg Wild Bar-B-Que in Pisgah Forest, N.C.


From Kathy G.:
Did you know Joe’s Home Cooking at its Finest — new location on Cleveland Avenue near Route 618 and Beiler’s Market in Uniontown— is back and open again? Great food and prices with larger eating area and lots of parking at the new location.

Dear Kathy: Thanks. I know a lot of people liked that place. I finally get to give it a try.

From Cheryl:
This year I celebrated Independence Day with avocado martinis — they sound odd but they’re delicious, cold and refreshing. This recipe makes 4 cups or so:

Rim glasses with lime juice, coarse salt and chili powder (ancho is nice). In a blender mix 2 cups ice, 4 ounces tequila, 2 ounces orange liqueur, 1 ounce lime juice, 3 sprigs of cilantro (optional), 1 avocado, diced, and 2 tsp. agave nectar (although I prefer 1 tablespoon honey). Blend until smooth. Pour into glasses and garnish with lime wedges.

Dear Cheryl: In my martini days I would have loved this. Now I’ll just settle for some chips and salsa. (In perhaps a fit of self-preservation, my body began reacting weirdly to liquor a few years ago. I miss martinis, although I do enjoy a bit of Bourbon now and then.)

From Diane:
Re: slugs on basil — To get rid of your slugs, save your egg shells and after drying out for at least 2 hours, crush them and spread them around the plants the slugs are eating. It is organic and I know it works. We had hostas that were being eaten by slugs and after putting crushed egg shells around the plants the eating stopped!

Dear Diane: Thanks for sharing. Sounds easy and convenient.

From Mark:
Re: smoked salmon hash — When my friends Don and Linda Murfin were officers of the Akron City Club in the early 1990s, a chef there created “Murfin Hash” for them. I use a lightly poached egg per serving as the liaison rather than the Boursin-based cream sauce created by the chef, but I love the chef’s innovation of chopped fennel bulb and beets (triple rinsed; added just before serving) to the familiar mixture of cubed browned potatoes with onion and similar sized pieces of smoked salmon.

Dear Mark: Aha! A fine use for the beets growing in my garden. Thanks.

From Jan C.:
I saw that you had eaten smoked salmon hash last weekend. I have an easy cheat to make it at home: I use Ore Ida potatoes O’Brien which already includes the chopped peppers and onion You can add more veggies or some dill if you wish. Brown the potatoes in butter. Stir in a bit of half and half to add just a bit of richness. Then flake in 4 to 6 ounces of smoked salmon. Leave it in small pieces, not shreds. This can be topped with a runny sunny-side-up egg for extra richness. I serve this with a homemade horseradish sauce that I use lots of horseradish in.

A easy cheat for salmon chowder is to use the baked potato soup from Sam’s Club or Costco. I brown some extra onion in butter, add smoked salmon for just a couple of minutes, then stir it all into the warmed soup, Lovely with a salad on on a cold winter night.

I know you are a from-scratch cook but once in a while it is nice to simply have things on hand that go together quickly on busy days.

Dear Jan: I don’t mind cheating with good-quality ingredients and recipes that make sense. Thanks for the good ideas.

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July 17, 2017

Dear friends,
My three clumps of lavender have been waiting all their lives for Nancy Baggett’s latest book. I pounced when I saw The Art of Cooking with Lavender this spring.

I have known Nancy for years as a meticulous cookbook author — she has almost 20 — who triple-tests recipes on two types of stoves before sending them into the world. So I knew the recipes in her book would work.

I have tried just one of the recipes so far, but it’s a doozy. Lemon-Lavender Pots de Creme are voluptuously rich ramekins of the smoothest, silkiest custard you can imagine. The dominant flavor is fresh lemon, with an undertone of sweet lavender. Lemon and lavender were made for each other.

The book doesn’t stop at desserts, though. Recipes range from herbed popcorn to infused lemonade to stews and roasts. I’m looking forward to trying her Zippy Orange-Ginger Chicken Wings, Creamy Ranch Lavender Dressing and Lemon-Lavender Buttercream Frosting, among others.

The 122-page soft cover book is a trove of information about not only what to cook with lavender but how and what kind to grow. English lavenders such as Munstead (the variety I grow) are sweeter and milder than the more pungent French lavenders and for those reasons are best for culinary purposes. French lavenders are best for scent products, Nancy says. That’s lucky for us here in Ohio, because the delicate French varieties have a difficult time weathering our nasty winters. Spanish lavenders (L. stoechas) are purely ornamental and should not be used in cooking.

Lavender lovers with a plot out back have (or should have) harvested their crop by now. The stalks should be snipped when about the bottom third of the blossoms are partially open, according to the book. The blossoms may be used fresh or dried. I scattered my stalks on a table to dry and then transferred them to a plastic zipper-lock bag. Nancy recommends gathering the stalks into bunches and hanging them upside down to dry. I’ve done that, too.

The pots de creme call for two tablespoons of dried lavender, which is a surprisingly large amount, I found. The buds are measured after they are stripped from the stalk, and many stalks’ worth go into a tablespoon.

I made the recipe twice because the first was a dismal failure. The fault was mine, not the recipe’s. I tried to reduce the amount of calories and fat in the custard by using whole milk instead of heavy cream. I learned that acids like lemon juice will curdle milk, but not cream. So don’t try to be virtuous with this recipe.

The book may be purchased for $15.99 from Amazon or directly from the author at

  • 2 cups heavy (whipping) cream
  • 1/4 cup clover honey
  • 3 to 4 tbsp. sugar, to taste
  • 2 tbsp. dried culinary lavender buds
  • 1 tbsp. lemon zest
  • Pinch of salt
  • 7 large egg yolks, lightly beaten with a fork
  • 1/4 cup strained fresh lemon juice
  • Whipped cream for garnish (optional)
  • Fresh lavender blooms or sprigs for garnish (optional)
  • Fresh curls of lemon peel for garnish (optional)

In a medium nonreactive saucepan, bring the cream, honey, sugar, lavender, lemon zest and salt just to a boil, stirring until the honey and sugar dissolve. Turn off the heat and let mixture steep for at least 30 minutes, preferably one hour.. For a more intense flavor, cover and refrigerate an hour or two longer, tasting occasionally until the desired lavender flavor is achieved.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees with a rack in the middle position. Lay a tea towel in a deep roasting pan or baking dish large enough to hold 6 to 8 ramekins that ideally hold 2/3 cup each. Place ramekins or cups in pan, spaced slightly apart. Reheat the steeped cream mixture to very warm but not hot.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks until frothy and smooth. Gradually pouring in a thin stream, whisk the warm cream mixture into the egg yolks. Whisk in the lemon juice. Strain the custard mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a 4-cup glass measure, stirring and pressing down on the zest and lavender. Divide equally among the ramekins. Put in oven.

Immediately pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come at least halfway up sides of ramekins.

Bake 20 minutes at 325 degrees. Begin testing by jiggling a custard cup. As soon as the creme is set except for about the center one-half inch, remove pan from oven. Place custards on a cooling rack until room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Let warm up slightly before serving. Garnish with whipped cream and/or lavender flowers or lemon curls. Makes 6 small or 8 mini desserts.

From The Art of Cooking with Lavender by Nancy Baggett.


Local corn should be ready for picking any day now. Rufener Hilltop Farms in Portage County will “hopefully” start picking this week, says manager Lana Rufener. “At the latest by (this) weekend.”

At Graf Growers on White Pond Drive in Akron, “local” this year will actually be a farm about 45 minutes south of Akron, according to Karlie Graf, marketing manager. Graf’s fields were too wet for planting this spring, so the Grafs contracted with another farm to grow corn using Graf seeds and techniques, such as hydrocooling the picked corn. Daily shipments should begin July 18, Karlie says.

Wherever you buy your corn, call first to avoid a disappointment.


What I cooked last week:
Pan-grilled strip steaks, cherry tomato salad with walnut pesto; salami and avocado on toasted ciabatta bread; beer butt chicken, tomato salad with pesto; grilled hamburgers, corn on the cob; lemon-lavender pots de creme.

What I ate in restaurants/friends’ homes last week:
Green salad, fried liver and onions, mashed potatoes with a smidge of gravy at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth; shrimp sunomono, a Suzanne roll (a Jane roll with spicy mayo) at Sushi Katsu in Akron; roast pig, smoked brisket, corn bread, baked beans, mac and cheese, a chocolate chip cookie at Natalie and Brandon’s pig roast; brunch of smoked salmon hash, poached egg and hollandaise sauce at 111 Bistro in Medina Township; Thai red curry with chicken and vegetables at House of Hunan in Fairlawn.


From Arlene:

Jane, I was wondering if you have any idea how to marinate garlic. Giant Eagle has some on its salad bar that is very good. I looked up a pickled garlic recipe that I made and I really don’t like it — too sweet and not what I expected. Then I realized the salad bar garlic isn’t pickled. It stays white and has a crunch and is not bitter or sweet.

I would appreciate any ideas you may have. My brother-in-law eats several daily and lowered his cholesterol to the point his meds were reduced. Healthy snacks!

Dear Arlene: My husband likes to snack on garlic, too, although he usually buys the pickled kind in jars. What you are looking for is marinated garlic. Here’s one from Tinker with the herbs until the flavor is to your liking.


  • 30 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1⁄2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1⁄4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1⁄4 cup white wine vinegar (if you can find it, champagne vinegar is wonderful)
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste (I like to use Kosher salt)
  • 4 sprigs fresh oregano (or 1/2 tsp. dried oregano)

Bring a medium saucepan half-filled with water to a boil. Toss in the whole cloves of garlic and blanch for 5 minutes. Remove the garlic and plunge into cold water. Drain and dry off the garlic.

Mix the remaining ingredients (except the sprigs of fresh oregano) in a blender until emulsified. If using dried oregano, toss into the blender with the other marinade ingredients.

Put the cloves of garlic in a jar and cover with the marinade. Tuck the sprigs of oregano into the jar. Cover and allow to marinate for at least 5 days (longer is better) in the refrigerator. Serve as a snack, or as part of an antipasto, or as a side dish, or add to a green salad.

From Martha, Kent:
I don’t have the gardening success that you apparently do, but I have always been able to grow basil in pots on my back deck. But this year, something — some sort of bug, I assume — is eating the basil leaves! Instead of shiny, full leaves I’ve got munched up, mangled leaves. Do you have any idea what is eating the basil this year, and if there is anything I can do about it?

Dear Martha: My “gardening success” is a myth. I write about my garden fondly but it rarely returns the affection. This year I planted sugar snaps in April and just harvested the first handful of beans. I’ll be lucky if I get enough for a stir fry. My little row (about 4 feet) of French green beans was attacked by insects and the leaves look brown and chewed. But they have a few blossoms so I’m not giving up hope! The tomato plants I grew from seeds are not wilted and brown yet, so I am excited about an eventual crop.

My lone success so far this year (besides the wild black raspberries) is my basil. It is bushy and lush. I have had your basil problems in the past, though. From the photos you sent, the culprits are probably slugs, which eat great hunks of leaves instead of pinpricks that leave a lacy skeleton (for that problem, blame Japanese beetles.

This information comes from
“To retard those munching slugs, try sprinkling diatomaceous earth over the mulch. The diatomaceous earth scrapes the slug’s skin and causes it to dehydrate and subsequently die. Products such as Bayer Advanced Dual Action Snail and Slug Killer Bait, Sluggo, Escar-Go, and Schultz Slug and Snail Bait must be reapplied after rain or watering. While not totally nontoxic, these products contain iron phosphate, which is significantly less harmful to pets, birds and beneficial insects than the more antiquated metaldehyde-containing products.”

Hmmm. The phrase “not totally nontoxic” worries me. You’ll have to wash the basil leaves before you use them.

From Tammy:
I want to weigh in on the soy milk issue. I am not lactose intolerant nor am I a vegetarian but I love soy milk. I do not cook or bake with soy milk, nor do I see it as a substitute for the “real thing” but the taste is different from milk and I enjoy it. I have never had almond milk, cashew milk or flavored soy milk so my opinion is limited. I do love edamame and tofu in all forms so maybe this has something to do with it.

From Beth:
Try Califa unsweetened almond milk. The green one, there are several colors of packaging. Great on cereal.

Dear Tammy and Beth: I may gather my courage and try plain soy milk, but I’m wary of nut milk after the cashew fiasco.

From Tami W.:
Regarding lamb, I wanted to give a second shout out for Duma Meats. All their meats are wonderful — and we always make the drive to Portage County when we want to cook beer butt chicken. You can taste the difference! Duma’s prices are also much lower than grocery stores.

Dear Tami: I’m sold. I’ve bought whole pigs from Duma for roasting, but have never made the trip for regular cuts. I must remedy that.

From Cheryl:
Crown rack of lamb, leg of lamb and nice chops can be found at Sams Club. The racks got rave reviews from our ladies’ lunch group when I served them grilled (cherry smoked) with homemade pomegranate molasses, grilled asparagus, grilled smashed potatoes with rosemary butter and my signature lemon lavender martinis. I love my friends.

Dear Cheryl: And we would all love to be one of them. Currently, Sam’s is my source for lamb. The price is good and the lamb is pretty good, too. I’m just hoping to find a local source with reasonable prices, which may be a pipe dream.

From Janet:
Your were hunting for lamb. And I do not know if this would be a solution: Arukah Market Health and Wellness. It is located at 2871 Edison St. in Lake Township west of the Hartville Flea Market in a house on the north side of the street. There is a website. The changing sign out front mentions bison, goat and elk. Everything is natural. I have not been there but the reviews are good.

Dear Janet:
Thanks for the tip. I’ve seen the sign for the store but didn’t notice anything about bison, goat or elk. Exciting! I called and talked to owner John Taylor, who said he does get lamb sporadically from a local farm. The store had ground lamb and one leg of lamb when I called. The leg was $11.97 a pound.

To everyone who suggested Spicy Lamb Farm, Brunty’s and other local boutique operations, I am aware of them but they are out of my price range — as is Arukah. But I may stop by for some elk.

Winner of two James Beard Awards for food writing.

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